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Potential reform of the statutory flexible working regime has been on the agenda for several years but finally, after a consultation first launched in autumn 2021, the UK government has announced its intention to bring about some changes. Legislation will need to be introduced, and the timescale for that is currently unknown, but employers in England, Wales and Scotland will need to be prepared to review and amend their flexible working policies and procedures to ensure they comply with the new requirements.

Contrary to some headlines, the changes do not introduce flexible working as the default position.  The reforms fall short of flexibility being the starting point (i.e. only to be deviated from if there was a good reason) and instead retain the current principle that there is a right to request flexible working, but no right to work flexibly. This means that, like now, employers will still be able to turn down requests if there is a good business reason for doing so or if eligibility criteria are not met. The eight business reasons for rejecting requests (the burden of additional costs; detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand; inability to reorganise work among existing staff; inability to recruit additional staff; detrimental impact on quality; detrimental impact on performance; insufficiency of work during the periods they propose to work; or planned structural changes) will remain the same.

Continue Reading Flexible working reforms: what do UK employers need to know?

The 2022 winter work party season is upon us, providing the first real opportunity in a few years for end-of-year celebrations. Whether at company, location, or team level, seasonal gatherings provide a chance for employers to thank staff for their hard work and for everyone to relax, socialise and have some fun with their colleagues. Yet without careful thought and planning, they can be problematic for employers who can find themselves faced with fallout from the festivities.

Here are our top tips and reminders for UK employers:

  1. See the party as an extension of the workplace: Just because an event is taking place outside working hours or at an external venue does not mean it is not ‘work’. Workplace policies continue to apply, and employers may find themselves vicariously liable for the actions of their employees, particularly in respect of discrimination and injury. 
  1. Work parties should not be compulsory: Inclusivity should be at the core of party organisation (see below) but there are a variety of reasons why someone may not want to, or be able to, attend (and for many events it could be impossible to schedule something which works for everyone). Any concerns about attendance should be addressed, and no-one should be put under pressure to go along or be treated differently as a result of attending (or not).
  1. Beware of discrimination risks when organising events: When planning events, organisers should be as inclusive as possible, remembering for example that days or times chosen may preclude certain people (e.g. with childcare or caring responsibilities or religious observances) from attending; locations will need to accommodate any disabled workers; and food and drink options should meet all religious, cultural and dietary requirements. 
  1. Respect different religions and cultures: Employers should remain mindful that the winter period coincides with festivals and events for different religions (e.g. Christmas and Hanukkah) but that not everyone will celebrate these for religious or other reasons. Employers should avoid focussing on any particular celebration, and be careful with language to promote inclusivity. 


Continue Reading Get the party started: Preventing HR issues at work events

The football World Cup takes place in Qatar between 20 November and 18 December 2022, and many workers across the UK will want to follow the tournament. However, with many of the matches taking place during the working day or on a weekday evening, there are potential implications in the workplace. Here are our top tips for employers:

  1. See the tournament as an opportunity: Handled correctly, embracing the World Cup could help with employee engagement without having a detrimental impact on productivity. Actively addressing how the tournament sits along work commitments means that a balance can be struck between getting work done without the football acting as a distraction.
  1. Be flexible: Where possible, and within reason, allow employees to adjust their hours or place of work to accommodate them watching certain matches. This may necessitate longer or later lunch breaks, adjusting start and finish times, tweaking rotas, or switching work from home days. The requirements for approval should be made clear, as should whether (and if so, how) any lost hours should be made up, or taken out of annual leave entitlements.
  1. Accommodate annual leave: Managers should be prepared for short notice requests for (or cancellations of) annual leave, particularly in the later stages of the tournament, and be timely, understanding and consistent when considering such requests, even if they fall outside any usual holiday approval protocols.
  1. Monitor sickness absence: Absence on days of, or the day after, certain matches may give rise to concerns about whether the sickness is genuine, or has been brought about by e.g. excess alcohol. While employers should not be quick to make assumptions, and a one-off may be tolerated, inappropriate, repeated or regular absences demonstrating a pattern of behaviour may need to be addressed through sickness or, if appropriate, disciplinary policies.


Continue Reading Avoiding an own goal: Managing employment issues during the World Cup

On 23 September 2022, the new Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, unveiled the Growth Plan 2022 detailing the UK government’s set of economic policies aimed at, as the name suggests, boosting economic growth in the UK by improving competition and improving living standards by allowing people to retain more income. Much has been said in recent days on the merits and dangers of the plan and whilst we have seen an immediate impact on the value of the pound, it remains to be seen whether in the longer term the plan meets its aims and supports the country in navigating the likely impending recession. In the meantime, we summarise below the key elements of the plan from a UK employment perspective:

  • National Insurance cuts: On 6 April 2022, national insurance contributions (NICs) were increased by 1.25 percentage points, with a plan that this would make way for a new health and social care levy at the same level from April 2023. These have now both been scrapped. The NIC increase will be reversed from November 2022 and the health and social care levy will no longer be introduced next year. This is intended to make it cheaper for employers to employ staff, and allow more workers to keep more of what they earn.
  • Income tax cuts: The basic rate of income tax will reduce by 1 percentage point, from 20% to 19%, from April 2023, a year earlier than planned, and the highest income tax band of 45% for income over £150,000 is being abolished, again from April 2023. As with the NIC changes, this is intended to enable workers to retain more of their earnings.It is also hoped that the abolition of the top income tax band will attract more high earning talent to the UK.
  • Banker bonuses: A cap on banker’s bonuses was introduced by the EU following the 2008 financial crisis as it was believed that unlimited bonuses encouraged high-risk taking behaviour, and that a cap would limit the behaviour, which resulted in the crash. However, the cap came in for criticism for pushing up base salaries and bank’s fixed costs without allowing for adjustment for financial performance. Following Brexit, and the UK’s freedom to depart from the EU rules, that cap (of up to 2 times fixed salary) is now being removed. The thinking is that without the cap, the UK can be more competitive globally, being able to align pay practices with other markets, promoting UK economic growth, and to allow the UK to attract and retain talent in the UK.


Continue Reading UK Employment Law: key messages from the UK Government’s Growth Plan

On 22 September 2022, the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill 2022-2023 was introduced to the House of Commons, and if passed could give rise to the most significant shake up of employment rights since Brexit. 

In summary, the Bill acts to automatically repeal all retained EU law, and remove the principle of the supremacy of EU law, on 31 December 2023 (with the power to extend the revocation date to 23 June 2026) unless specific legislation is introduced to retain it.

What this means for UK employment law is unclear at the moment, but as employment rights relating to the transfer of undertakings (TUPE), annual leave and working time, discrimination and equal pay, and agency, part time and fixed term workers are derived from the EU, the potential for changes in these areas looms large.

We can only speculate at this stage, but there does not seem to be any current indication or suggestion of a radical overhaul of UK employment laws that have their origin in the EU. The UK has a strong track record of high employment standards, on occasion ‘gold-plating’ the minimum criteria required of it by the EU, and although the promised strengthening of rights through the Employment Bill are yet to materialise, the current political landscape is not conducive to a government looking to significantly reduce rights. In addition, trade unions and worker organisations would certainly be likely to vehemently challenge any proposed changes that are to the detriment of workers.

Continue Reading What next for EU derived employment rights in the UK?

As we start the summer holidays, the Supreme Court’s judgment on holiday pay is a timely reminder of the complexities of calculating holiday pay for certain workers.

Holiday pay has been a hot topic in UK employment law over recent years, with the latest Supreme Court decision in Harpur Trust v Brazel addressing the calculation of pay for workers who work irregular hours for part of the year on permanent contracts. Dismissing the appeal, the Supreme Court agreed with the earlier decisions that holiday pay should not be pro-rated, but instead calculated by looking at average earnings over the relevant reference period prior to leave being taken, even if it meant that the worker received proportionately more paid holiday than a full time worker.

Continue Reading Holiday Pay: the latest instalment

With train strikes scheduled for next week, and flight cancellations now a regular occurrence, UK workers seem set for a summer of travel disruption. This blog explores the implication for employers, particularly where workers may be stuck abroad, or otherwise unable to get to their place of work.

Flight cancellations

After two years of restricted travel due to the pandemic, summer 2022 finally provides an opportunity for well overdue holidays, yet with scores of flights being cancelled daily, not everyone will get away as planned, or return when they are meant to. Notwithstanding an argument that flight cancellations or being stuck abroad is not an exceptional circumstance in present times, workers will inevitably feel like it is something outside of their control, and employers are generally advised to act pragmatically.

For those stranded abroad after a cancelled flight home, getting back to work may prove problematic (unless they have booked extra annual leave as a contingency). Those who are able to work, albeit abroad due to a cancelled flight, should be paid in the normal way – working remotely is commonplace in a post-pandemic world, and provides a practical short-term solution where the circumstances permit. However, this approach assumes that a worker has the means to continue working. Although some diligent or senior employees may have taken their work phone and laptop with them so that they can work even if they are out of the country, requiring or expecting all workers (to the extent that the option is available) to do so is not particularly conducive or consistent with the idea that annual leave is a period of rest and relaxation. 

Unless a contract or policy states otherwise (which is unlikely), workers stuck abroad who cannot work remotely, or have no means to do so, have no entitlement to be paid for their absence once their annual leave comes to an end. However, assuming employees are making all reasonable efforts to get back to the UK as soon as they can, and being empathetic to the anxiety and administrative burden that workers will be facing in making alternative arrangements, employers could consider treating it in the same way as they would an ‘emergency’ situation, so if this is paid for a set number of days in other circumstances, to do so here too. Alternative possibilities are to require the days to be taken as paid annual leave, or otherwise as authorised unpaid absence. Options should be discussed in conjunction with the affected employee to find a mutually convenient solution depending on their specific circumstances, although employers also need to be mindful of treating workers consistently.

Continue Reading Strikes and cancellations: The impact of travel chaos on employers

The Queen’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament sets out the UK government’s legislative agenda for the year ahead. This year’s speech took place on 10 May, and in addition to the Queen’s absence, there was notable absence of any employment law reform.

In particular, the long-awaited Employment Bill, which was included in the Queen’s Speech in December 2019, was not one of the new Bills announced. Its omission was not unexpected, having been excluded from the legislative agenda during 2020 and 2021 too, but it is perhaps now even clearer that employment law is not a priority for the current government.

When first announced, the Employment Bill was expected to contain a plethora of new or enhanced rights including: carer’s leave; neonatal pay and leave; enhanced redundancy protection during pregnancy and maternity; an ability to retain tips; making flexible working the default; and increased contract predictability for workers. It was also expected to legislate to create a new single enforcement body. 

Continue Reading Queen’s Speech 2022: What next for UK Employment Law?

Covid-19 related reluctance or refusal to attend the workplace is nothing new, but as we enter a new phase of the pandemic, ‘Living with Covid’, developing case law will be of interest to employers who require or expect workers to attend the workplace on a full or hybrid basis. This blog considers the current guidance on workplace attendance, the recent Employment Appeal Tribunal’s (EAT) decision in Rodgers v Leeds Laser Cutting (a case looking at whether an employee had protection against unfair dismissal when refusing to attend work due to Covid related concerns), and some practical considerations for employers.

The UK government’s ‘Living with Covid’ plan came to full fruition in England on 1 April 2022, with remaining Covid-specific guidance now largely obsolete, and replaced with general public health guidance. This essentially treats Covid like other respiratory illnesses for individuals and business to manage, leaving employers with discretion on how to manage ongoing Covid risks in the workplace, and individuals encouraged to exercise personal responsibility. 

Employers are no longer required to consider Covid specifically in their risk assessments, nor have specific Covid mitigation measures in place, although they must continue to comply with their general health and safety obligations. Similarly, ‘work from home if you can’ guidance has been removed, although individuals with symptoms of a respiratory infection (including Covid), and who have a high temperature or do not feel well enough to work, or anyone with a positive Covid test, are advised to try and stay at home, working from home if possible, and to avoid others. Individuals who cannot work from home are advised to discuss options with their employer. 

Continue Reading Covid-19 related refusal to attend the workplace

The practice of ‘fire and rehire’ (i.e. dismissal of an employee and offering re-engagement on new, usually lesser, terms) as a way to facilitate a change to terms and conditions of employment has been under the spotlight in recent years. It is not a new strategy as a way of making changes to employment contracts, nor is it unlawful if handled properly, but the tactic has been subject to increased scrutiny in recent years as cases of misuse by some employers have hit the headlines.

In autumn 2021, legislation curbing dismissal and re-engagement was shelved by the government and replaced with a commitment for updated and more detailed Acas guidance. That guidance (which is not binding) focusses on the importance of thorough and constructive consultation with staff to explore all alternative options to terminating employment, describing fire and rehire as ‘a last resort’.

Fast forward a few months, and the government has announced that we can now also expect a new Statutory Code of Practice on fire and rehire intended to crackdown on the inappropriate use of the tactic, with increased punitive financial sanctions for non-compliance.

As always, the devil will be in the detail. The new Code is expected to set out the consultation process to be followed where there are proposed changes to terms and conditions, and to give practical steps for employers to follow. It is also expected that an additional 25% penalty (on top of the existing punitive sanctions) will be levied where an employer deploys fire and rehire tactics without first having made reasonable efforts to reach agreement through consultation, or where there is otherwise unreasonable non-compliance with the Code.
Continue Reading Fire & rehire clampdown: will a new Statutory Code of Practice help?